After more than five-and-a-half years behind bars, Palestinian professor and activist, Sami Al-Arian, has been released from prison. Immigration authorities released him on bail on Tuesday after they failed to explain his continued detention pending a trial for refusing to testify before a grand jury about a cluster of Muslim organizations in northern Virginia. Al-Arian has been in prison since February 2003, when federal prosecutors charged him with being involved in the group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. A Florida jury failed to return a single guilty verdict on any of the seventeen charges brought against him. Four of his five children met him at the prison in Fairfax, Virginia yesterday afternoon. They were reunited for the first time in more than 2,000 days. But while he is out of prison, Sami Al-Arian is not free. He must remain under house detention pending trial.
At the first full day of the Republican National Convention here in St. Paul, President Bush, Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman and former presidential candidate Fred Thompson urged the country to elect Senator John McCain. During his speech, President Bush compared progressive critics of his administration with the North Vietnamese who captured John McCain and held him as a prisoner of war for over five years during the Vietnam War.
President Bush: “Fellow citizens, if the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain’s resolve to do what is best for his country, you can be sure the angry left never will. As the father of seven sons and daughters, John has the heart of a protector. He and his wonderful wife, Cindy, are adoptive parents. John is a leader who knows that human life is fragile, that human life is precious, that human life must be defended.”
Bush’s praise for McCain on his war-time record and family life contrasts with his efforts to smear McCain during their battle for the Republican nomination eight years ago. During the 2000 Republican primaries, the Bush campaign questioned McCain’s mental health because of his experience in Vietnam and suggested his adopted daughter could have been born out of wedlock.
Lieberman’s speech came nearly eight years to the day after he accepted the vice-presidential nomination on the Democratic ticket with Al Gore. In his address, Lieberman called Obama too inexperienced to lead and criticized him for his opposition to the Iraq war.
Sen. Joe Lieberman: “When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, which would have been a disaster for the USA, when colleagues like Barack Obama were voting to cut off funding for our American troops on the battlefield, John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion, advocate the surge, support the surge, and because of that, today, America’s troops are coming home, thousands of them, and they’re coming home in honor.”
Former Senator and presidential hopeful Fred Thompson also criticized Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress.
Fred Thompson: “To deal with these challenges, the Democrats present a history-making nominee for president, history-making in that he’s the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for president. Apparently — apparently they believe that he would match up well with the history-making Democrat-controlled Congress, history-making because it’s the least accomplished and most unpopular congress in our nation’s history.”
Vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin will headline tonight’s round of speakers at the Republican National Convention.
Meanwhile, McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, has been quoted saying the candidates’ public image will matter more than issues in deciding the election. In an interview with the Washington Post, Davis said, “This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”
Outside the convention Tuesday, police fired flash bang grenades and teargas at peaceful protesters after the end of a march led by the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. The grenades are designed to produce a deafening bang and a blinding flash. Twin Cities police arrested at least ten people on Tuesday, bringing the total number this week to over 300. Dozens of activists jailed on Monday were still being slowly released last night. Democracy Now! caught up with a medic shortly after he was freed after more than twenty hours behind bars.
Medic: “There are still a whole lot of people in jail waiting to get out, and a lot of people are really uncertain about how they’re getting out. And some of them have various injuries from pepper spray and getting beat up by the cops before getting in there, just kind of uncertain what’s going on.”
Meanwhile, the Ramsey County sheriff’s office has admitted it infiltrated and spied on a prominent protest group in the Twin Cities known as the RNC Welcoming Committee for the past year. Two informants and an undercover investigator posed as members of the group, which the sheriff’s office deemed to be an “organized criminal enterprise.” The RNC Welcoming Committee describes itself as an anarchist/anti-authoritarian organizing body.
New Orleans residents have begun to return home following the massive evacuation from Hurricane Gustav. Tens of thousands of homes are without power, and a nighttime curfew remains in effect. On Tuesday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said the city is still vulnerable despite avoiding the worst of the feared flooding.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal: “I want to emphasize again to people out there that, yes, it’s good news we didn’t have the levee breaches or the major flooding, but we have huge challenges caused by Hurricane Gustav.”
President Bush, meanwhile, is calling on Congress to back more offshore drilling in Gustav’s aftermath. On Tuesday, Bush said the storm’s impact on oil supplies underscores the need for alternative sources of energy offshore. Bush said, “When Congress comes back, they’ve got to understand that we need more domestic energy, not less. One place to find it is offshore America, lands that have been taken off the books, so to speak, by congressional law.”
As the Gulf Coast recovers from Hurricane Gustav, Tropical Storm Hanna is already wreaking havoc in the Caribbean. Twenty-one people have died in Haiti, where thousands have been forced to scramble to rooftops to avoid rising floodwaters. More than 100 Haitians have died in the three storms over the past few weeks. The US National Hurricane Center says Hanna could regain hurricane strength and turn toward the east coast of Florida, Georgia or South Carolina in the coming days.
In Washington, an internal Justice Department probe has faulted former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for mishandling classified information. The Justice Department inspector general says Gonzales violated security rules by keeping highly sensitive files at his home and office. The documents related to the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program and the administration’s secret interrogation of prisoners in the so-called war on terror. The inspector general also revealed he referred Gonzales’ action to the Justice Department for Gonzales’ possible indictment , but officials refused to press charges.
In Washington State, a lone assailant is in custody after fatally shooting six people. The suspect shot a sheriff’s deputy before going on to kill five civilians.
The South African judge Navanethem Pillay has begun her new stint as the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. Pillay spent years defending opponents of the apartheid regime. She went on help to establish the UN war crimes court in Rwanda before becoming a World Court judge in 2003.
UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay: “I think that my judicial experience qualifies me to be impartial and independent and to be outspoken, but to be always base myself on factual information. So that’s the experience I come with. And then I come with my heart for victims all over the world, because I suffered as a victim in apartheid South Africa.”
Pillay replaces the departing Canadian Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour.
A federal grand jury has indicted an American-educated Pakistani woman whose arrest in Afghanistan has stoked controversy. Aafia Siddiqui is accused of trying to open fire on several FBI agents who had come to question her in Afghanistan. The FBI also says she had documents on making chemical bombs and a list of potential targets in the United States. But Afghan police have given a radically different account. They say US personnel shot Siddiqui following a misunderstanding that saw her initially asking them for help. Siddiqui’s family has accused the US of raping and assaulting her during her imprisonment at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the US is being accused of leading a ground assault that killed at least fifteen people. If confirmed, the attack would mark the first time the US has used ground troops inside Pakistan. The raid is said to have involved US-led NATO helicopters based in Afghanistan. Witnesses say the helicopters dropped off troops who proceeded to conduct raids on several homes. The dead reportedly include women and children. The governor of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province called the raid an “outrageous” assault on Pakistan’s sovereignty.
In Japan, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Hiroshima on Tuesday to pay tribute to the victims of the US atomic bombing sixty-three years ago. Pelosi becomes the highest-ranking US official to pay their respects to the victims since former President Jimmy Carter’s visit in 1984. The atomic bomb killed around half of Hiroshima’s population of 350,000.
In Nigeria, an American documentary filmmaker has been arrested in the oil-rich Delta region. Andrew Berends was arrested on Sunday along with his interpreter. He is working on a film about the conflict surrounding oil production in the Delta. Berends says he was deprived of food and water for more than thirty-six hours and has been accused of spying.